Challenging Times At Andretti Autosport

Posted in IndyCar on July 24, 2017 by Oilpressure

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Michael Andretti being courted by Chevy has moved from the rumor category to the public knowledge category. It’s still in the talking stages for now, but many people seem to think it will happen. Most see it as a win-win between Chevy, who needs more entries in the Verizon IndyCar Series; and Andretti Autosport, which is not only in need of better results, but financial help as well.

Andretti Autosport ran Chevy engines in 2012 and 2013. During that time, their full-time drivers were Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe for 2012, while EJ Vizo was added to the mix for 2013. That two-year period produced the 2012 championship with Hunter-Reay and nine wins between Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe.

Following the 2013 season, Andretti Autosport switched to Honda; shortly after Chip Ganassi Racing announced they were leaving Honda and moving to Chevy. In the almost four seasons that have followed, Andretti Autosport has won eight races and no championships. But it should be noted that of those eight races, three of them were the Indianapolis 500. If you are going to win one, make sure it’s that one.

Winning three of the past four Indianapolis 500’s aside, this has been a lean period for the team that won four championships in eight seasons from 2004 to 2012.

While many ponder what has happened to Andretti Autosport on the track, I’m wondering what has happened to them in the conference room.

Do you recall the cars that won three championships in four years and one that almost won the Indianapolis 500 with a nineteen year-old Marco Andretti behind the wheel? They were flush with sponsorship – all of them. And they were names we had all heard of.

Tony Kanaan’s 7-Eleven car had no more room for any additional decals. It was the same for Dan Wheldon’s Jim Beam car, Dario Franchitti’s Canadian Club car and Bryan Herta’s XM Satellite Radio car. Not only did these cars have big-name sponsors that were household names, they had strong backing from associate sponsors like Argent Mortgage, Vonage, Gatorade, Hershey’s, Oreo’s, The Palm, Klein Tools and others.

Somewhere along the way, the search for sponsorship seems to have passed this team by. While sponsorship has always been a tough task for most teams, Michael Andretti seemed to have the golden touch that made his team immune to the sponsorship woes of even teams owned by Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi. When Team Penske lost the Philip Morris money completely for the 2010 season, two of the three Penske cars carried sidepods bearing the names of the team. Ganassi was still a two-car team at that time with both cars carrying Target livery, but many sponsors would rotate in and out on each car throughout the season.

That was also the year that Andretti-Green Racing was transformed to Andretti Autosport. With that name change came the departure of Michael Andretti’s two partners, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. Those two went on to form Green Savoree Racing Promotions, which are the promoters for the IndyCar races at St. Petersburg, Toronto and are the track owners of Mid-Ohio.

Since that time, Andretti Autosport has brought on DHL, which has developed into a longtime primary sponsor for Ryan Hunter-Reay. But they have lost the primary sponsors 7-Eleven, which led to the departure of Tony Kanaan after the 2010 season; Motorola/Boost Mobile following the 2009 season; and ultimately Go-Daddy, which led to the departure of James Hinchcliffe.

Instead of the big-name sponsors we became accustomed to seeing on the Andretti cars, sponsors like .electric Energy Straws, Cinsay, United Fiber and Data, SureTone and a soon to be bankrupt hhgregg adorned the sidepods of the Andretti Autosport cars since Green and Savoree left.

This season, Hunter-Reay’s DHL sponsorship has been visible all season and appears to be very solid. But what about the other four full-time cars? Last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner has had NAPA on the sidepods for about half the races. Other races, he is running ShopAndretti.com on the sidepods. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Takuma Sato, has Panasonic money which translates into an associate sponsorship – but he has been carrying #CheckIt4Andretti alluding to John Andretti’s colon cancer awareness campaign. Marco Andretti was slated for the doomed hhgregg sponsorship, but aside from a few races with United Fiber and Data on the car, he has been carrying the colon cancer hashtag as well.

Sponsorship is never easy. Although the economy has turned around considerably since 2010, it is not reflected in available sponsorship. Sports advertising is a different landscape than it was heading into the 2010 season; motorsports advertising even more so. That is evident in Chip Ganassi failing to find a new sponsor to replace Target after twenty-seven seasons.

But nowhere has a team lost the ability to attract new sponsors than the case with Andretti Autosport. Lack of sponsorship led to Hinchcliffe leaving after the 2014 season, and Carlos Muñoz departing for Foyt after last season. With three of their four full-time cars being unsponsored for what seems like the majority of races, their sponsorship portfolio is a shell of its former self from the glory days of a decade ago. Is this the new normal? Or is there something missing at Michael Andretti’s team?

My personal opinion is that it may never have been Michael Andretti that had the golden touch. He has the name and he obviously has a good head for business, but did he ever have the ability to actually close the deal? My guess is, no.

From what I gather in talks with those a lot closer to the situation than I am, the secret to their success as Andretti-Green Racing rested with Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. They have gone on to show their ability to attract sponsorship in the races they promote, while Michael Andretti’s promotional efforts folded with the Milwaukee IndyFest and the Grand Prix of Louisiana. Both of those failures were not necessarily Andretti’s fault, but the results are still there in black and white.

Some may say that I am attacking Michael Andretti, but I don’t think so. He has poured his heart and soul into not only his race team, but the series and sport as a whole. Some suggest that he is spread too thin with his IndyCar team along with his involvement with the Mazda Road to Indy, his Formula-E team and hos Global RallyCross efforts. That may be, but none of us are privy to Michael Andretti’s balance sheet. Although his recent results may be lacking on the track, he may be crying all the way to the bank. But blank sidepods are not a good sign. Perhaps Michael should follow the advice from Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan in Magnum Force, who said “A man has got to know his limitations”. Perhaps it’s time to find someone who can work the magic that Green and Savoree could.

So I’m hoping that the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season is a fresh new start for Andretti Autosport. They have obviously struggled to get a handle on the Honda aero kit at practically every track except for IMS. Perhaps the common body kit for next year will work in their favor. And the potential move to Chevy? Well, that’s anyone’s guess. Honda has shown vast improvement this season, while Chevy’s success has been pretty much limited to Team Penske. Some equate that success more to the Penske shock absorber program than the power under the cowling. Time will tell.

The Verizon IndyCar Series needs for Andretti Autosport to resume its role as one of the Big Three at all tracks. Next year could provide the bump they need. Let’s all hope so – not only for their sake but for the sport in general.

George Phillips

Embracing The IndyCar Blogger Moniker

Posted in IndyCar on July 21, 2017 by Oilpressure

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All the way back in February, we learned that John Oreovicz was being unceremoniously dumped by ESPN.com through no fault of his own. Most of you know that Oreovicz did an excellent job as their motorsports writer for more than a decade, especially in his coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, he was one of the earliest victims of the bloodbath at ESPN this past spring that saw them cut loose many familiar faces and voices that we had grown to know over the years.

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My Take On The Helio Saga

Posted in IndyCar on July 19, 2017 by Oilpressure

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Over the last week or so, I’ve gotten a handful of e-mails asking why I haven’t written my thoughts regarding the situation regarding Helio Castroneves and his possible (probable?) move into sports cars next season. I’m not sure what an overage blogger in Nashville thinks about something really matters, but since a few have asked – here is my take.

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Random Thoughts On Toronto

Posted in IndyCar on July 17, 2017 by Oilpressure

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For the second year in a row, the Honda Indy Toronto was won by a car that was not the fastest in the field, but one that was able to stay out front once it got there. Josef Newgarden pitted just as Tony Kanaan buried his car into the Turn One tire-barrier on Lap 23, which brought out the second and last full-course yellow of the day. While the timing was extremely fortunate for Newgarden, it had the opposite effect on the day for Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal.

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Toronto Preview

Posted in IndyCar on July 14, 2017 by Oilpressure

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If I asked you which race on the current Verizon IndyCar Series schedule was the fourth-oldest in terms of number of races run, would you be able to answer? Would you be surprised to learn that the answer was the Honda Indy Toronto? I was. I suppose they are counting the four races run at Mosport Park that took place in the sixties and seventies, but I was still surprised at that stat.

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What Will Draw More Fans To Ovals?

Posted in IndyCar on July 12, 2017 by Oilpressure

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If you watched Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300, you may have noticed that the stands were slightly more than half-full. It has already been discussed that starting the race at 4:40 local time on a hot Sunday afternoon instead of a Saturday night may have contributed to a smaller attendance, but Iowa is suffering what most ovals are – chronically sagging attendance.

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Random Thoughts On Iowa

Posted in IndyCar on July 10, 2017 by Oilpressure

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The 2017 edition of the Iowa Corn 300 was one of the more memorable races of the eleven that have taken place so far. It will be remembered for many reasons. First of all, Helio Castroneves broke his fifty-five race win drought as he picked up the thirtieth win of his illustrious career that includes three Indianapolis 500 victories. It also gave Roger Penske his first win at the seven-eighths mile oval in Newton, Iowa after ten frustrating losses. Aside from that, I’ll remember this race for the great racing that took place throughout the field.

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